Boston Brown Bread | The Quebec version

Quebec boston brown bread sweetened with Quebec maple syrup

Want to go directly to the brown bread recipe? click here to skip to the recipe for this Quebec-style Boston brown bread!

Quebec brown breadSometimes I love my inner nerd, and sometimes I kind of hate it. I take something simple, like a recipe from Bon Appétit for Boston brown bread, and then I question it. I turn what should have been a simple baking session into 5 loaves of brown bread, and I often end up with more questions than answers, or the desire to do even more experiments. I can’t help it, and as somebody pointed out, my little baking experiments are what make me ME. Ain’t that the truth.


Sliced Quebec brown breadI bookmarked this Boston brown bread recipe that was originally published in a 2012 issue of Bon Appétit. That’s a long time to hold onto a recipe. When I finally got around to making it, I had some “issues”. The recipe recommends to bake the bread in two 11- to 13-ounce coffee cans. I assumed that Bon Appétit was referring to fluid ounces, therefore cans that are somewhere between 325 and 385 mL, roughly. So, when I Quebecois-ized (Quebecersized?) the Boston brown bread recipe with maple syrup and maple sugar, I figured the two empty 540 mL maple syrup cans I brilliantly have been saving for a special day would be perfect and super cute for this post. Right? Plus, I figured my can substitution would work out well because the maple syrup cans are bigger than those recommended coffee cans, according to my calculations. 


Quebec brown bread slicedUnfortunately, my logic was absolutely WRONG, but I’m going to share the blame with the magazine. Bon Appétit was referring to American coffee cans that fit 11 to 13 ounces of coffee by weight. I have no idea if it’s ground coffee or whole beans, and I’m pretty sure that would affect the size of the cans at least somewhat. So those two empty maple syrup cans that I had been saving weren’t big enough to hold all that batter. Suddenly I found myself running around, unsuccessfully googling just how big a coffee can is in the US, searching for a third can, feeling a lot of anger, all while my batter just sat there. I was angry because, in this era where we all have access to a wealth of information courtesy of the magical interweb, you’d think a reputable magazine would consider the fact that an “out-of-towner” might be trying their recipe one day and perhaps, dare I say, might not have access to two 13 ounce coffee cans! Is that scenario so hard to imagine? Plus, many Canadian coffee companies actually use cans that are a mixture of metal and cardboard, which probably isn’t a very oven-safe combination and not too compatible with the water bath that the breads bake in. And I happen to get coffee from a local roaster, and he sells that coffee in paper bags, but I guess that’s besides the point…

Brown bread baking experiment


Can size aside, most brown bread recipes are baked in cans in a water bath in the oven for several hours but what I found here is that it takes a lot longer than the recommended 1.5 hours to get the submerged area to brown. Even after 2 hours, the browning of the bread still wasn’t even. I also tried baking the bread directly in the oven, no water bath, which lead to a more even browning on the outside within an hour of baking, and I don’t think the texture was any different from the breads baked in the water bath. So I don’t think there’s a point to the bain-marie technique, honestly.


Brown bread experiment cross sectionsI love this “Quebec brown bread” (good thing because I had five of them to eat!). The flavour and texture remind me of bran muffins quite a bit. I guess it’s the mixture of different flours and cornmeal. It slices beautifully and tastes wonderful with a slathering of salted butter. Still, I’d like to test out more brown bread recipes, or at least tweak this version here. I want to drastically reduce (if not remove) all that baking soda to see how that affects the flavour, and also to test out if the colour we are seeing is really a consequence of the Maillard browning reactions at alkaline pH or just caramelization. Plus, I’m just not sure a whole tablespoon of baking soda is necessary to get the pH high enough for browning reactions to occur. I keep meaning to buy pH paper and now I have yet another reason to invest.

All that to say this is why my letter to Bon Appétit will also suggest that they hire me, and if you are reading my post, editors of Bon Appétit, you can contact me via this form.  If you want to see the results of some of my other baking experiments, check out my cake drop experiment, my sablé cookie experiment, my vanilla cake recipe comparison, and even my marmalade setting temperature experiment.

Quebec Boston brown bread recipe


Quebec brown bread sliced

Boston Brown Bread | The Quebec version

This is a recipe for Boston brown bread that is sweetened with maple syrup. I guess you could say it's like Quebec-style Boston brown bread. It has a lovely, deep flavour that is perfect with salted butter.

Course Bread
Cuisine American
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 3 loafs
Calories 84 kcal
Author Janice


  • Butter slightly melted, for greasing the cans
  • 500 mL whole milk 2 cups, 3.25% milk fat
  • 125 mL maple syrup 1/2 cup, medium
  • 40 grams maple sugar 1/4 cup
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 125 grams whole wheat flour 1 cup
  • 156 grams all-purpose flour 1 1/4 cup
  • 125 grams rye flour 1 cup
  • 52 grams cornmeal 1/3 cup
  • 1 tbsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder


  1. Carefully grease the inside of three empty maple syrup cans using a pastry brush. Make sure to get butter in all the grooves. Set aside. Also cut three squares of foil to cover each can with, greasing one side with butter.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  3. Heat the milk with the maple syrup, maple sugar, and salt until everything is dissolved (do not boil). Set aside to cool.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cornmeal, baking soda, and baking powder. Add the milk mixture and whisk until just smooth and combined.
  5. Divide the mixture between the three prepared cans. Top each with a piece of foil, grease-side down and secure with a piece of kitchen twine.
  6. Bake for about 1 hour on the middle rack.

Recipe Notes

Volume of 1 maple syrup can = 540 mL (18 fluid oz)
Dimensions of 1 maple syrup can = 11.4 cm high x 8.9 cm diameter (4.5" x 3.5")


Boston brown bread, the Quebec version

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18 Responses to Boston Brown Bread | The Quebec version

  1. Meaghan April 29, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Love this post and your inner nerd for conducting this experiment! Hope you hear from Bon Appetit 🙂

    • Janice May 1, 2015 at 5:34 pm #

      I hope I hear from them too! I will report back if and when they do 😉

  2. Shareba April 29, 2015 at 5:29 pm #

    So THIS is what you were making with the cans!

    I hate when a recipe leads me astray like this. It’s SO frustrating – especially if you discover that you don’t have the proper vessel to cook the dish in. I bet all 5 of your loaves still taste amazing though 🙂

    • Janice May 1, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

      All 5 loaves were belly approved 😉

  3. Teresa April 29, 2015 at 9:40 pm #

    I think there is a host of assumptions found in American recipes that can be very frustrating for the Canadian cook. Our cookbooks tend to have an international sensibility that American (and some British ones, for that matter) lack. Good for you for figuring it all out. I might have just given up and broken out the muffin pan.

    • Janice May 1, 2015 at 5:50 pm #

      Assumptions are the worst because they lead to a lot of struggling, clearly! I guess I probably make assumptions too when I develop recipes. It’s an interesting topic to consider every time we work on a new recipe: are we making an assumption that our readers might have trouble with, whether it’s the way we measure or a weird technique…

      You know, I was so annoyed all I could think about was finding a third can and didn’t even consider a muffin pan, hahaha!

  4. Karen Ahmed April 30, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    What a fabulous post!!!!!! Never thought of baking in a can!

  5. Julia (@Imagelicious) May 1, 2015 at 9:05 am #

    This is a really cool recipe. I saw a similar one in some magazine and they made this bread in a can at a camp in the fire.

    I don’t have maple syrup cans like this. I should be able to use 2 tomato cans that are 766 ml each, but do you know how long should I bake the breads for? Maybe 1.5 hours?

    • Janice May 1, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

      Hey Julia! I suspect those 2 tomato cans must be close to the coffee cans the recipe originally called for and Bon Appetit said they took 1.5 hours in a water bath in the oven. I think they’d take at least that, if not longer, but honestly, you can always pull them from the oven to check. I found when the breads were baked, a skewer inserted in the middle of one came out almost clean and the tops were very firm when pressed. And if you bake them directly in the oven (at 350ºF), I’d check them after a good hour.
      I hope that helps somewhat and please let me know how it goes!

  6. bellini May 1, 2015 at 9:10 am #

    I like the Quebecois version of brown bread with maple syrup and maple sugar. Can’t wait until June when I can replenish my supply.

  7. Anna (Hidden Ponies) May 1, 2015 at 10:01 am #

    Haha, they NEED to hire you, clearly. I’ve never heard of baking bread in a can, but it sure looks fun! I think I’d have the same trouble as you finding the appropriate sized cans 🙂

    • Janice May 1, 2015 at 5:41 pm #

      I hope they write to me 😉

  8. Joanne B May 1, 2015 at 11:38 am #

    The New York Times has a version of this today but much more complicated than yours.

    • Janice May 1, 2015 at 5:40 pm #

      That is more complicated with the toasting of the rye and the whipped egg whites, and I find the egg whites odd because I thought the whole point of brown bread is that it is firm and a little denser…. Also, funny how they show a maple syrup can in the image at the top of the post, but they don’t mention maple syrup at all in the recipe.

  9. Isabelle @ Crumb May 1, 2015 at 10:55 pm #

    I love absolutely everything about this post, but most especially the idea of using maple syrup cans for that truly Quebecois touch. 🙂 I haven’t made brown bread in years and years, but now I’ve got a serious craving after seeing all those gorgeous loaves. I think there’s some baking in my near future!
    PS: Next time someone says “bloggers don’t test their recipes”, I’m sending them over to your blog.

  10. Kimberlie Robert May 8, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

    Hi Janice, The only brown bread I’ve made is from Julia Child’s ancient Baked Bean and Brown Bread recipe, and it’s been years for that. Your recipe looks much better. This post is beautiful. It’s so thorough and complete, and well worth my time to read through it.

    It was so nice to meet you last night. Let’s go for ice cream in the near future.

    Thanks so much.


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